I am a huge fan of engaging and exciting test prep activities that really encourage and motivate my students. However, I also see the value in some good old fashioned pencil and paper test prep. It definitely has its place and will definitely help prepare the students for the “boring” test. Also, it prepares them for middle school, high school and beyond where they will be constantly required to perform in a paper/pencil format. With that being said, I do have some simple strategies or tricks that I use to make my paper and pencil test prep more engaging and “fun” for the students (and the teacher!)
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1. Let the students check their answers with scentos or other smelly or fun writing utensils.
My students love using smelly pencils, makers, and pens. I buy a class set of Scentos from Amazon and let them use those to check their answers. These work great for math or reading (although a thin marker or smelly pencil is better for reading so the students can write their corrections). Here is an example of how we use Scentos to correct answers on our Math Test Prep Helpers.
I also like to let the students make corrections with sticky notes. This definitely motivates them to correct those errors.
2. Have the students complete the test prep in a collaborative manner.
There are several ways that you can make paper and pencil test prep review collaborative. Here are a few of my favorite ways:
- Give each group a handout or set of task cards. Set a time limit and challenge each group to see how many answers they can get right in that time limit. Award a small prize to the group with the most correct answers. This can even be done in chunks so that more groups have the chance to win.
- Use task cards, write problems on chart paper, or even cut problems from a handout and tape them around the room. Have the students go around with their partners to answer each question. Read more about how I do this on this post.
- If you want something a bit more extravagant (more like a test prep wrap up/reward for working hard), put the students in groups and have them run around the room to answer questions on their handout or at a station and then complete a “minute to win it” style task after checking to ensure the answers are correct. Click here to read more about this Amazing Race Style Test Prep.
3. Use a novel format for the paper and pencil test prep.
My students certainly love novelty and this definitely applies to test prep. Anytime you can take the paper and pencil work and change the format slightly will be more engaging than the norm. For example, you could print test prep work two to a page and make a booklet. The students could even design the cover with images and quotes that motivate them to do their best work. My students love completing my Rock the Test Math Mini Booklet (See 4th grade here and 5th grade here). The format is novel and less threatening. They also enjoy coloring the graphics on the pages when they complete a page.
Another quick way to change up the format is to type or hand write the questions on an interactive notebook template. This can even work well with textbook test prep materials. Take a few of the questions and turn them into an INB for some instant engagement.
4. Let the students use sand timers to challenge themselves with their fluency.
This strategy would make an engaging center or whole group activity. Have the students time themselves with a sand timer and see how many questions they can answer correctly in a specific time frame. Then they can repeat and try to increase their fluency or their accuracy. Fourth and fifth graders are the perfect age to have a discussion about making sure you are answering questions at a fluent pace but also answering them accurately.
These sand timers from Amazon are perfect for this because the times for each sand timer varies from 30 seconds to up 10 minutes. You can use the timers to differentiate and give some students more time or give some tasks more time. For example, students will need longer for constructed response reading questions versus straight computation problems.
5. Offer small incentives.
I know that we all want our students to be intrinsically motivated and work hard without “bribery.” However, test prep time typically pushes the students to remember a lot and can put stress on students. Many students may act out or shut down at the pressure. To keep things light and “fun”, I do like to design activities that offer small incentives for students. Here are some examples:
- Have the students work in teams and award team points for correct answers. The team with the most point wins a piece of candy or a homework pass.
- When the students work in teams and answer a question, take it a step further and ensure all students are learning by randomly choosing a student from any team. If the student can prove the answer is correct, they receive a few skittles. This keeps the team motivated to make sure all the members are participating and learning.
- Throughout the day, randomly award small poms to students for excellent answers, justification, or perseverance. You can use the poms in several ways to reward the students. The students can save their poms and cash them in at the end of the week for small prizes. Another option is to have the students select a pom without looking at the color. At the end of the day, announce the prize for each color of pom and present the prizes.
6. Use “themed” test prep resources.
Most upper elementary classrooms don’t typically use themed resources (except holidays and science and social studies themes) like the primary grades but the students still love them. An easy way to engage your students in reading test prep is to find some themed high interest passages with rigorous questions. Use those passages to have a themed test prep day.
One of my favorites test prep themes is a “Survivor Game Show Theme”. I use my Survivor Themed Reading Test Prep Pack and the students love it! I start the review by showing a short (pre-watched and approved) clip from the Survivor TV show to build background and get them excited to learn more. Most of my students don’t have a background of the show but they are instantly interested in it after a quick clip and discussion. In fact, they usually get so excited to learn more that the test prep doesn’t even feel like work. This particular resources has three passages with several text-dependent questions for each passage (varying from multiple choice to constructed response).
In addition to using themed reading passages, the students will love if you are able to tie the theme in other ways. For my Survivor theme, we create plans to pass the test, graph the results of each student’s test prep, and even create a themed bulletin board to keep us motivated and working hard to “outwit, outplay, and outlast” the test.
Those are my 6 best tips to make even the most boring paper and pencil test prep engaging. Click here to see more test prep ideas, including centers, review, and collaborative activities. How do you engage your students in paper and pencil test prep?
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